Syria downplays importance of Assad handshake with Israeli president
Israeli President Moshe Katsav on Friday shook hands with Syrian President Bashar al Assad during an unexpected encounter between the two at Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome.
Katsav, who was born in Iran, also bumped into Iranian president Muhammad Khatami and exchanged several words with him in Persian, Ynet reported.
The surprising encounter marks the first time a Syrian leader shakes hands with an Israeli president.
Katsav, who noticed Assad was seated one row behind him at the event, shook the Syrian leader’s hand and greeted him. Assad accepted the gesture, shook Katsav’s hand, and also greeted him.
Later in the ceremony, guests were urged to demonstrate a gesture of reconciliation toward those around them. This time, Assad was the one to initiate a handshake with Katsav, the report added.
At first, Syrian sources denied reports regarding the handshakes. The Israelis are operating according to “the more you lie, the more people will believe you” principle, the sources said. Later, a Syrian official source said that during Pope John Paul II’ funeral the ceremony and the rites necessitate the participants to shake hands formally.
"Mr. Katsav turned to President Bashar al-Assad who was standing amid a host of leaders and presidents and shook hands with him with out exchanging any verbal phrases", the source told the Syrian Arab News Agency SANA in reaction to what has been reported by media.
"This was an incidental case and had no political indication … it doesn’t change Syria’s stance which is based on the firm announced principles", the source added.
Algerian President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika also approached Katzav, hugged him, and shook his hand.